It’s not that Bob Dylan has an axe to grind, or is pressing a point. It just seems like he doesn’t care all that much. After months of silence peppered with speculation, the artist formerly known as Robert Zimmerman, has finally accepted his Nobel Prize for literature. He still hasn’t received his $9,00,000 prize money though, and perhaps he never will, given that he has to give an acceptance speech before he receives the money. But that’s as unlikely to bother Dylan as it is likely to irk the seemingly hapless Nobel Committee.
By acknowledging Dylan “within the great American song tradition”, the prize has certainly expanded the ambit of what is considered literature. But Dylan’s contribution to American, and global, music was more than just literary. From the 1960s onward, through the Vietnam War and the American civil rights movement and beyond, his songs have been anthems of rebellion. In his music and poetry, he managed to combine the irreverence and disillusionment of Beat writers like Jack Kerouac that preceded him with the style embedded in a long folk tradition. The uniqueness of Dylan that made him so deserving of the prize has also placed him at odds with the Nobel Committee.
From the moment the prize was announced in October last year, Dylan has been blowin’ in the wind. The committee, held hostage by the songwriter’s indifference, made its displeasure public: Nobel Academy member Per Wastberg called Dylan “arrogant” and “impolite”. Had he refused the prize on moral grounds, or made a public political statement while accepting it, he would have fit neatly in the mould of many of its previous recipients. But by his sheer nonchalance as he climbs the podium, Dylan is still himself.